Lessons in Operational Sustainability from Cracking the Glass Ceiling

Image by Alev Yalman

by Helen Serebin, MBA Operations/Sustainability 2012

Last Monday, September 26, four women who breached the glass ceiling: Jessica Bibliowicz, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, NFP; Marietta Bottero, Senior Vice President HR, BMO Capital; Anne Izzillo, Financial Planning Specialist, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; and Laura Cirello, Senior Vice President, Bank of America gathered to address a Zicklin Women in Business [ZWIB] audience at a panel titled ‘Women in Leadership – Negotiating Your Way Up’.   The panel discussed both long range strategies and more immediate tactics that women can use to crack open the glass ceiling.

The speakers’ comments were refreshingly candid and practical.  [Thank you ladies!]  Recent research and management thinking points to the shift to women’s  management styles and correspondingly, more women in leadership positions.  See HBR Sep 2010, Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women  and The Economist Dec 20, 2009, Womenomics-Feminist management theorists are flirting with some dangerous arguments

Despite this, there was general consensus that as enlightened as the second decade of the 21st Century may be, there are still disparities in pay, respect, and credibility; perceived differences in abilities; and unequal valuing of female work styles and management skills, e.g. consensus-building, collaboration, relational skills.

Which brings me to the point of this post:  As someone with experience on both sides of the recruiting table, my question to us women out there is whether we contribute to the glass ceiling by our entrenched HR practices, such as asking about prior compensation history.  The panelists agreed that they ask candidates about their previous salary.  If we know that women are underpaid, the answer we receive to our question only confirms the disparity.  It does nothing to shed light on women’s true market value.  And if we make offers based on this answer, we reinforce the disparity.   As Jessica Bibliowicz pointed out, for operational efficiency it is better to pay what a female candidate is worth rather than what a previous employer paid.

And why is this?  If we hire at a bargain price (70% of a man’s salary) it neither serves the organization or the recruit’s long term interest.   Sooner rather than later that employee will leave for the pay differential (or some increment of it) that our short-term thinking considered a cost saving.   That discount turns out not to be such a bargain.  We get staff turnover, expertise leaving the firm, and increased recruiting costs.  If managers, men and women alike, pay women what they are worth, we’ll achieve operational sustainability at the same time as dismantling the glass ceiling.  As they say in the boardroom, that’s a win-win.

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